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I'll Be By Your Side

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Bu Ja was tired. She was tired of hanging on to this body, fighting Ah Sa Nyeo to stay alive as the priestess’s soul crushed hers. She couldn’t let go, though, wouldn’t. Not when Pal Gye was still in her life, when he was still willing to do anything, anything, to help her, even when it meant getting tricked again by Ah Sa Nyeo. Not when her heart still tripped into a staccato beat whenever she was in his presence once more. She did her best to survive in between those moments, using them to fuel her soul until the next time she could see him.

It was getting hard, though. Ah Sa Nyeo had lost her powers, and her body was starting to rot again without her keeping it alive. They were both growing weaker.

Bu Ja found her body being dragged through the streets by Ah Sa Nyeo, trying hard to keep her face hidden as she made her way to Lucifer Entertainment. She hid herself away in the back of Pal Gye’s dressing room, crouched behind the small table there, just waiting, waiting, waiting.

When the stylists came into the room, hands full of clothes, Ah Sa Nyeo hardly moved, though Bu Ja wanted to flinch and curl up more. It was a relief, then, when Pal Gye’s voice sounded out through the room and a jacket was draped over her head. Pal Gye knelt down beside her, and it was then that Bu Ja felt Ah Sa Nyeo’s shame at her rotting state. She kept the jacket over her head, only moving it when Pal Gye had finished speaking, once again trying to protect Bu Ja by saying that people would recognize her.

When Ah Sa Nyeo finally met his eyes, Bu Ja felt a twinge of hurt at his startled expression. She knew her body had deteriorated terribly, looking almost worse than when she had first come back to the city. She’d never wanted Pal Gye to see her this way, she thought, remembering how she had wanted Son Oh Gong to burn her while she still felt pretty.

Then Ah Sa Nyeo spoke.

“I came to steal some energy beads. Will you give me some?”

Pal Gye’s face morphed into a hard look of resignation as he looked away for a moment.

“Wait,” he said.

To her surprise, Bu Ja felt a spike of exasperation from Ah Sa Nyeo that matched her own.

“Are you an idiot?” she questioned, earning a look from Pal Gye that was hard to read.

“It’s not on your behalf.” His voice had a sharp edge, his eyes hard.

“Then on her behalf,” Ah Sa Nyeo began. It killed Bu Ja when she talked this way, as if she was no longer there. She wanted to make a disgusted noise, but the priestess’ next words struck her cold. “will you burn me?”

No. No, what was she doing? Bu Ja couldn’t manage to read her thoughts, her own too scattered and panicked to do much of anything. How could she ask that of Pal Gye when Bu Ja was still here? She was here, she was here, she had to – she hadn’t even properly said goodbye!

In her panic, she had hardly noticed Ah Sa Nyeo speaking again, not until Pal Gye took her elbow, helping her to her feet with his brow furrowed and his eyes conflicted. He didn’t speak as he led her to his car, carefully shielding her again with the jacket, nor as he weaved in and out of traffic, driving out of the city until they could see trees along the side of the road again.

Eventually, he turned off onto a narrow gravel road, driving down to some sort of deserted park. His head stayed down as he lead her off the path to an area above a frozen lake, lined pleasantly with hibernating trees and rock formations.

Ah Sa Nyeo looked around for a moment, taking in the scenery.

“Here seems to be fine.”

Finally, Ah Sa Nyeo turned Bu Ja’s eyes to Pal Gye, and again, again, as always, her heart pounded painfully in her chest. He looked tired too, sad and broken and ready to give up. Bu Ja felt the tightness of her throat, the pressure behind her eyes that might have meant the beginning of tears before Ah Sa Nyeo had taken over her body. She waited for the priestess to swallow them back down, to make herself emotionless again, but the moment never came. Instead, she felt the wetness of a tear on her cheek, gliding down towards her jaw.

Pal Gye’s face before her mirrored the shock she felt, his jaw slack and eyes wide as he tracked the tear’s progress down her face.

Jeo Pal Gye-nim! she shouted, screamed, desperately trying to make her mouth work. I have to talk to him, I have to Jeo Pal Gye-nim!

In that instant, her mouth opened, croaking out his name as she screamed it in her head.

Both of them froze, simply staring at each other

She still felt Ah Sa Nyeo in her, but her presence wasn’t quite as smothering as before. This could be her only chance, she thought, struggling to make her body take a step forward.

“Jeo Pal Gye-nim,” she whispered again.

This time, Pal Gye stepped forward as well, one hand stretching out very slightly, as if he could not stop himself from wanting to reach for her.

“Bu … Bu Ja?” he asked tentatively.

Another tear slipped down her cheek.

“I’m sorry, Jeo Pal Gye-nim.” She bowed, her hair falling into her face.

“W-what? Bu Ja, is that really you?”

“I shouldn’t – I shouldn’t have gone,” she stuttered out. If she hadn't been so gullible, hadn't believed Kang Dae Sung when he called, none of this would have happened.

Ah Sa Nyeo tightened around her again, probing against her weak spots. She gasped a little. “I’m sorry, Jeo Pal Gye-nim, I don’t think I can stay much longer.”

“No, Bu Ja, don’t go! How do I help you?” Pal Gye lunged forward, gripping her fingers tightly between his. The look in his eyes was wild, desperate.

Bu Ja closed her eyes, thought. All of Ah Sa Nyeo’s thoughts and memories were there in her head, alongside her own. The answer to Pal Gye’s question bubbled to the surface surprisingly easily, as though Ah Sa Nyeo was thinking of it as well.

With an effort, she opened her eyes again. It was getting harder – Ah Sa Nyeo clearly wanted to have control again. Bu Ja could feel her fear, her desire to stop Bu Ja before she told Pal Gye what she now knew.

“You have to burn me.”

“What? No!” Pal Gye shook his head harshly, stepping backwards from her. She felt cold the moment his hands left hers. “No. Bu Ja-yah, what are you saying?”

“Jeo Pal Gye-nim, please, you have to.”

He shook his head again, despair creeping into his expression. “You can’t let her win like this! Why are you doing what she says?!”

Bu Ja wanted to cry again, but this time the tears didn’t come. There wasn’t much time left.

“If you make your flame right, it won’t hurt me.” She tried her hardest not to slur her words. She hoped she could do what she had to. “I-I’ll push her towards the surface, and if you put your hand here –” she pointed towards her chest “– it will burn her away.”

Pal Gye looked frightened for a moment before his features shifted into anger.

“How do I know!” he shouted. “How do I know you’re not playing tricks again! I won’t hurt her for you!”

It was taking everything Bu Ja had to stay in control, Ah Sa Nyeo clawing at her from the inside in fear and rage.

“Jeo Pal Gye-nim, please. I want to come back. I want to be your little brother again." Shaking, she dug up her last secret, hoping it would be enough. "I-I … I like you.”

Pal Gye looked struck, staring blankly at her. There was nothing else she could do to convince him. Using the last of her strength, she caught his wrist, turning his hand palm-up.

“Here,” she said, pointing again to the center of her chest.

To her relief, blue flames burbled up in his palm. She retreated into herself and, with a deep metaphorical breath, grabbed fistfulls of Ah Sa Nyeo’s soul and pushed it to the spot Pal Gye was reaching for on her chest. The priestess screamed, digging in, but Bu Ja wouldn’t give up. This was her chance , her last opportunity to be herself, and she wouldn’t let it slip through her fingers. She had held on this long, resisting becoming an evil spirit no matter how many people Ah Sa Nyeo ate. She could hold on just this little bit longer.

With the final shreds of her willpower, Bu Ja pushed Ah Sa Nyeo to the surface, just as Pal Gye’s hand touched her.

Out of her mouth came a terrible scream, shocking even to her own ears. Terrified, Pal Gye tried to pull away, but Bu Ja’s fingers held him fast, continuing to press his flames into her. Her eyes had closed, but as she screamed, she felt Ah Sa Nyeo’s spirit melting away, letting her own soul expand to fill every atom of her being. She hadn’t truly realized how much it had hurt to be squeezed into the same space as the priestess until she was finally gone, her drawn out scream dwindling into nothing.

Exhausted, Bu Ja crumpled to the ground, Pal Gye’s arms coming up to break her fall.

“Bu Ja! Ya, ya, Bu Ja-yah!! Oh my god.”

She could feel Pal Gye’s arms shaking her, but it was still too hard to open her eyes. Was she even breathing? Oh, wait, she wouldn’t be. She was still technically dead after all.

“Jin Bu Ja, please open your eyes!”

Finally, his voice pierced through the fog in her mind, and her eyes snapped open, gazing up at the face above her. She took in Pal Gye’s beautiful brown eyes glittering with unshed tears, his chapped lips falling open as he looked back at her.

“Oh my god, you’re alright! I thought I killed you both,” he nearly sobbed, hugging her tighter. After a second, though, he gasped, pulling back to look into her face. “Wait, you are Bu Ja, aren’t you?”

Despite his fearful face, Bu Ja found herself smiling as she reached up to stroke his nose. “Jeo Pal Gye-nim, I like you.”

Pal Gye did nothing for a moment, his eyes flicking between both of hers. Then, he sniffled, the corners of his lips curling up just the tiniest bit, and patted her hair gently.

“Do you really?” he said, looking slightly anxious.

“Of course.” She was still smiling, though it felt a bit like her cheeks were stretching now. “I liked you since the start. You’ve always looked after me. I’m really thankful to you, Jeo Pal Gye-nim.”

He blushed, making a tiny scoffing noise as he looked away.

“I, well, you’ve come to – to mean a lot to me, Bu Ja.” He paused, glancing at her a few times, then suddenly let out a whine. “Ah, Bu Ja-yah, this is hard. Do you really want me to confess?”

“That’s okay, Jeo Pal Gye-nim. I know what you’re trying to say.”

He immediately looked relieved. “That’s good. Because I really like you a lot.”

Realizing what he had just said, he flushed dark red. Bu Ja laughed.

“Aish, let’s just go get you fixed back up,” he groaned out, levering Bu Ja gently to her feet as he stood as well. He held her tightly as she stumbled her way back to his car, both from being unused to being in control of her limbs and from the condition her body was in.

“The Summer Fairy isn’t around to do your makeup anymore,” Pal Gye said as he opened the passenger door for her, “but at least the Winter General can give you a nice freeze, and we can get you an energy bead to help you start to heal. I might still have some of those preservatives, too.”

“I probably smell really bad. I’m sorry,” Bu Ja said, bowing automatically.

Pal Gye laughed. “It’s okay, you know my nose isn’t great anyways. If you want, I – I um – kept your perfume in my bag.”

She looked up at him in surprise. “Really?”

Sheepishly rubbing at his neck, he reached into the satchel that sat on the back seat. “Uh … yeah.” A few moments later he came back up with the glass bottle in his hand. Shoving it into her hands, he turned his face away to look at the ground, biting his lip.

Smiling slightly, Bu Ja lifted the perfume bottle, spraying it over every inch of her body she could reach. The familiar lotus scent felt comforting, and as Pal Gye met her eyes again, he was smiling too.

“Is that better?”

He leaned in towards her and scrunched up his nose to give a good sniff. Her heart beat painfully, once, and she tried to look up at the sky to keep a straight face.

“Mm,” he hummed, looking satisfied as he tilted backwards again. He patted her hair again. “Much better.”

With that, he helped her into the car, even leaning over her to buckle the seatbelt for her. As he walked around to the driver’s side, she let herself slump into her seat, curling up slightly. She was still exhausted, and all she wanted to do was sleep. She wasn’t sure if she should though, with how weak her body still was. It felt like she could float away at any moment.

As if sensing her thoughts, Pal Gye took her hand as he slid in behind the wheel.

“It’s okay, Bu Ja-yah. Just rest for a while.” His thumb drew comforting circles on the tender skin at the base of her thumb.

They drove in silence for a while, heading back towards the city, until Bu Ja had a thought.

“Jeo Pal Gye-nim.”

“Mm?”

“How am I still alive?”

Pal Gye looked at her curiously.

“Ah Sa Nyeo and I both felt Unni’s blood stop working. She’s dead, isn’t she? If she’s gone, I should be too.”

Pal Gye’s look of curiosity quickly shifted to one of confusion and concern.

“I don’t know,” he said seriously. “Maybe it had to do with Ah Sa Nyeo’s powers keeping you alive? We can try to figure it out once you’re better.”

Bu Ja was silent for a few minutes, curling further into the seat.

“Jeo Pal Gye-nim.”

“Yeah.”

“Is Unnie really dead?”

The hand in hers tightened its grip.

“Yeah,” he breathed out after a moment, apparently unable to keep it from her. “Kang Dae Sung killed her.”

Bu Ja’s fingers gripped back, and he cleared his throat.

“Don’t worry, though,” he chirped, his voice falsely chipper. “The last I heard, Oh Gong-hyungnim was on his way to kick up a fuss in heaven to get her soul back. You know he always gets his way.”

The sky rumbled slightly at the end of his sentence. Bu Ja said nothing.

“Hey.” He let go of her hand to caress her mottled, pitted face, not seeming to care one bit. “Let’s get you fixed up first, okay? Then we can worry about Sam Jang.”

“Okay,” she whispered softly.

Pal Gye took her hand back up again, the two of them remaining quiet until he pulled up in front of Lucifer Entertainment again. He got out and came around to her side of the car, shrugging out of his coat as he did so. He looked so handsome in his pink suit, so unusual but fitting his personality so well.

“Here,” he said, holding the green coat out to her. “You smell better, but you still look pretty rotted. It’ll be better if we hide your face for a bit until we get you some energy beads.”

Bu Ja nodded, letting him wrap the coat around her head. He held it closed under her chin as she stepped out of the car and walked carefully into the building. Quickly, they got into an empty elevator, Pal Gye punching the button for Ma Wang’s top-floor office. As it rose through the levels, Bu Ja felt herself getting a bit nervous. The last time anyone saw this body, it was being controlled by an evil priestess, who had done her best to convince everyone that Bu Ja was gone. How would they react now? Would they think Pal Gye was being tricked again?

Pal Gye patted her head through his coat, calming her. When the elevator dinged at their floor and the doors slid open, he slipped the coat off of her, draping it over his arm. He took her hand again as they walked into Ma Wang’s enormous office, the walls of backlit photos surrounding them. Ma Wang himself was sitting at his desk, Secretary Ma at his elbow, looking over some papers. He looked up as he heard Bu Ja and Pal Gye’s footsteps, his face immediately morphing into a frown.

“You,” he snarled, his finger pointed at Bu Ja. “Why have you crawled back here again? What are you -” He stopped abruptly and tilted his head. “Wait. Why can’t I feel Ah Sa Nyeo’s energy?”

Pal Gye stepped forward. “Bu Ja defeated her, Ma Wang-nim,” he said proudly. “Well, I mean, I helped, but. Now it’s just Bu Ja in there.”

“Ma Wang-nim, it’s good to see you again.” Bu Ja smiled as she bowed, relieved that the demon was able to tell right away that Ah Sa Nyeo was gone.

Ma Wang’s eyes were wide. “Bu Ja-yah, is that really you?”

She nodded. “It’s me. It’s like Jeo Pal Gye-nim said, we were able to defeat Ah Sa Nyeo together. I’m very thankful that he helped me.”

Pal Gye made that little scoffing noise again. Bu Ja was coming to understand it as his embarrassed-but-pleased sound.

“Ah, Bu Ja-yah, it is you!” Ma Wang cried. He rounded his desk to come closer to her, but backed away quickly, his nose wrinkling.

“Aish, you really stink,” he said, pinching his nose closed.

Bu Ja bowed again. “I’m sorry. I sprayed on lots of perfume, but I think I’m too rotted now.”

“Oh, that’s right! Is the Winter General here? We need him to freeze Bu Ja before she gets any worse,” Pal Gye spoke up.

“No, he’s not here right now,” Ma Wang responded. “I’ll message him to tell him to come over.”

“Thanks, Ma Wang-nim! I’m gonna feed Bu Ja an energy bead in the meantime.” He turned around, grabbing Bu Ja’s hand. “C’mon Bu Ja, let’s go.”

She let herself be dragged along, waving at Ma Wang and Secretary Ma as she and Pal Gye left the office.

Biding their time until the Winter General to arrived, Bu Ja took a few preservatives and ate up the energy bead Pal Gye had chosen for her, a very pretty purple one that he said came from Sapporo.

“I’m really popular in Japan,” he preened. “The crowd was really energetic this night, so it should help you recover a lot.”

“Thank you, Jeo Pal Gye-nim. The energy bead was really tasty,” she said, folding into a bow. To her surprise, she resurfaced to find Pal Gye frowning.

“Ya, Bu Ja-yah,” he said. “Don’t you think you’re being too formal still? We like each other now, right?”

“Oh,” she responded, her own frown forming on her face. “What would you like better then? Should I call you Oppa?”

“Ayyy, I’ve been trying to get you to call me that since the beginning,” he complained, scrunching up his face. Bu Ja giggled.

“I looked up to you too much to call you that then.” She giggled again as his face colored a bashful pink. “But now … I think I like it.”

“Would you want to call me that?” He gestured at her like he wanted her to continue talking. “Go on, try it out.”

“Thank you for the energy bead, Pal Gye-oppa,” she sang, cuddling the now-empty bead to her chest to stop her instinct to bow.

“Aigoo, our Bu Ja is so cute,” a voice sounded out, making both Bu Ja and Pal Gye jump. The turned to see Ma Wang holding the door open for the Winter General, who gave Bu Ja a scrutinizing look as he stepped into the room.

“You’re looking better already,” he said as he approached, his voice soft and smooth as always. Looking into his eyes, though, Bu Ja saw the concern there, and she knew. The words were for Pal Gye, to stop him from hurting too badly. She and the Winter General both knew that her state had deteriorated too much for the energy beads and the frost to really do much good. She wasn’t going to last much longer, with or without Ah Sa Nyeo.

Still, the Winter General put his hand on her head, and his powers radiated throughout her body, freezing her as much as he could manage while still leaving her the ability to move.

When he had finished, she bowed low in thanks, hoping that he would understand that it was for more than just the freeze. He nodded gently in response, and they all made their way into Ma Wang’s main office space again.

As the Winter General was making his goodbyes, Bu Ja felt it. A small spark flared in the center of her heart, and she looked down at it in confusion, pressing her hand to her chest. In the same moment, the heavens let out a rumble that shook the entire room, and suddenly before them stood Oh Gong, his arm wrapped tight around Seon Mi at his side.

A living, breathing Seon Mi.

“Unnie!!” Bu Ja cried, lurching towards the pair. Seon Mi stepped out of Oh Gong’s arms to gather her into a hug. “Unnie, you’re alive!”

“Wah, daebak!” Bu Ja heard Pal Gye say behind her, his voice colored with awe. “Oh Gong-hyungnim, you really brought her back? How?”

Another peal of thunder rumbled through the air, and then Elder Soo Bo Ri was standing beside them as well.

Bu Ja let go of Seon Mi to see Ma Wang stepping forward.

“Has he really done it?” His wide eyes darted between Seon Mi and the Elder. “Sam Jang is … back?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say Sam Jang is,” the other man replied, “but yes, the Great Sage has managed to bring Jin Seon Mi back to life.”

“How did you do it hyungnim?” Pal Gye spoke up again excitedly.

“I became a human being,” Oh Gong said. Pal Gye’s eyes widened, and Ma Wang dropped his jaw in shock. “I gave up my immortality in exchange for Jin Seon Mi’s immortal soul, so we’re both normal humans now. Neither of us have our old powers.”

Seon Mi smiled up at him, and Bu Ja remembered that she had always longed for a normal life. She was happy that she would have that now, even if she would never be able to see it.

Abruptly, Pal Gye stepped forward, breaking her train of thought.

“You gave up your immortality to bring her back to life?” he asked. He looked excitedly from the now-former demon to Elder Soo Bo Ri. “Elder Soo Bo Ri, I want to do that too.”

Everyone looked to Pal Gye in shock.

“Pal Gye, what –” Ma Wang started.

“I’m not as stupid as everyone seems to think,” Pal Gye interrupted, a bit angrily. As his eyes darted over to Bu Ja, she caught the flash of pain in them. “I – I know Bu Ja isn’t really better. Even with Jin Seon Mi back, without her powers she won’t be able to keep her alive. And I know –” His voice broke and he quickly looked away from the group, instinctively making Bu Ja step forward. When he looked back up, he met her eyes, catching her there. “I know your body has rotted too much for the energy beads to be useful. I have to do something, you see?”

The room was quiet for a moment, everyone’s gazes slowly drifting from the pair to Elder Soo Bo Ri. His face twisted in chagrin.

“It’s a bit tricky in your case,” he responded. “Son Oh Gong had to give something up to bring Jin Seon Mi back, since she was already in the afterlife. But Bu Ja is still … there.”

“But – but she’s still dead though, right? Like Sam Jang was.”

“Technically yes, but –”

“But what?!” Pal Gye's expression had started to grow wild. Bu Ja slid her fingers around his arm, slipping them down to his wrist, and he quieted slightly. He adjusted her grip so their fingers were interlaced and faced Elder Soo Bo Ri again.

“What is it that I have to do? I’ll go up to heaven if that’s what it takes.”

Thunder rolled warningly through the room.

“That won’t be necessary,” Elder Soo Bo Ri said quickly.

“What then?”

“Well, it’s just that, with Son Oh Gong – this is the first time anything like this has ever happened.”

Another collective shock ran across the group.

“So you can’t guarantee it will work,” Seon Mi said shrewdly.

Elder Soo Bo Ri gave a harried shrug. “Even for you and Son Oh Gong there was no guarantee.”

“Hmm,” Seon Mi hummed. She turned to Pal Gye. “If this doesn’t work, you may lose your immortality for no reason. Do you want to risk that?”

“Earlier today, I thought that I was the only one left out of all my friends. I thought that I would be alone for the rest of my life. I’d rather live a short time by Bu Ja’s side than live for eternity by myself.”

Bu Ja looked up at Pal Gye through eyes misted with tears, astonished. She hadn’t known that his feelings were that strong. Yes, he had always taken care of her and looked out for her, even when Ah Sa Nyeo was in control of her body. But still, he had insisted on calling her his little brother and never treated her with anything more than simple affection. Even after his bumbling confession, she hadn’t been sure that his feelings ran as deeply as her own. But now she knew. If he was willing to give up his immortal life for her, even knowing that there was a chance it wouldn’t work, she was willing to try as well.

Across from them, Elder Soo Bo Ri nodded in acceptance.

“Very well. Everyone step back.”

Her friends did as he said, the small group forming into a wide, loose circle with Bu Ja and Pal Gye in the center.

Bu Ja looked around at all of them, wanting to take one last look in case she was never able to see them again. There was Secretary Ma, professional and loyal in ways that Bu Ja fiercely admired. The Winter General, whose calm, even temper soothed her just as much as his frosts did. Ma Wang, whose personality fluctuated between rambunctious and calculating almost on a daily basis, but somehow had still endeared himself to her. Oh Gong, who, despite the cruel exterior he put up, she knew cared deeply for those people around him. And finally, Seon Mi, who may have been her creator, but felt more like a sister in her heart. They were all so precious to her, and with all her heart she hoped the ritual would work, so she could stay in their presence just a little while longer.

At last, she turned back to Pal Gye, his eyes still on her face. The look in his eyes, so full of hope, brought tears to her own again.

“Are you ready?” he asked, his fingers squeezing hers tightly.

She nodded.

“Yes.”

Elder Soo Bo Ri turned them towards each other, instructing them to hold both of each others hands. Bu Ja was grateful for the smile that Pal Gye gave her when they did so, and she did her best to give him one in return.

“Jeo Pal Gye, you must concentrate,” the Elder instructed. A low rumble started, vibrating in the air around them. “Focus on your life force. You must send it through your fingertips into Bu Ja’s body. And Bu Ja, you must accept it and draw it from him into yourself. The only way that this will succeed is if you work together.”

Bu Ja smiled and closed her eyes as Elder Soo Bo Ri stepped backwards, raising his arms to the sky. She could already feel her palms tingling, Pal Gye’s life force welling to the surface of his skin. It felt warm and vibrant and comforting, perfectly matching the man she had come to know. It was almost easy to pull the tiny trickles into her own body.

“Good,” she heard, distantly, Elder Soo Bo Ri’s voice say. Then, “Let the will of heaven be done.”

All at once, the air around Bu Ja and Pal Gye began to crackle. His energy felt even more intense, now white hot beneath her skin as it flooded into her. Her eyes flew open as a flash of blinding white light illuminated the room, arrowing straight into her and Pal Gye’s bodies.

For a moment, Bu Ja felt almost weightless. Pulses of energy flowed through her, and she could almost feel her body being rebuilt from the inside out. Her head was thrown back at the same time as Pal Gye’s in front of her, a gasp tearing from both of their throats in tandem.

Then, just as suddenly as it came, the light faded, the sensations under Bu Ja’s skin dissipating. She was left staring into Pal Gye’s eyes again, as warm and beautiful as they had always been.

He stepped back just slightly to look her up and down, but when their gazes met again, the emotion in his was almost too much to take. Bu Ja felt as though she could almost see herself through his eyes, whole and unblemished and perfect. Her heartbeat echoed loudly in her ears, her breath whooshing into her lungs again and again.

Carefully, she brought a hand in front of her face, turning it this way and that to prove that yes, she was healed, she was alive.

“Pal Gye-oppa,” she choked out, but couldn’t seem to force anything else through her lips. “ Pal Gye-oppa.”

It seemed he couldn’t say anything either, his lips trembling as he pulled her towards him. Her head came to rest just in the space where his neck met his shoulder, her cheek against the thick fabric of his suit coat, her forehead on the smooth skin of his neck. He took a deep, shuddery breath that shook through her. Distantly, she heard the sound of retreating footsteps.

“You’re okay, you’re okay, it’s okay, Bu Ja, you’re alright,” she heard him muttering against her hair as she leaned against him.

“I’m okay, Pal Gye-oppa. I’m alive again.”

Pal Gye squeezed tighter in response to her words, sobbing softly into her hair. She patted gently at the very center of his back.

“Are you okay, Oppa? Were you hurt anywhere?”

He leaned back slightly, giving her a watery but grateful smile as he looked down at her.

“No, no, I’m alright,” he reassured her. “I feel a little weird, but not any different than when Ma Wang-nim was blocking my powers. I guess that just means that they’re really gone.”

Bu Ja couldn’t help feeling a little guilty. “I’m sorry you had to give up your powers for me, Pal Gye-oppa.”

“What, are you kidding?” Pal Gye looked shocked. “Bu Ja, of course I would. For you, of course I would. Don’t be sorry.”

Still, Bu Ja couldn’t stop herself from hanging her head. She heard him tut softly, and then his fingers were lifting her chin until she was looking into his eyes again.

“It was worth it, to have you here beside me.”

It was so strange to think that he could feel this way, that she was worth this much to anyone, but as she met his warm, endless gaze, her heart felt so full. He smoothed her hair out of her face.

“Bu Ja-ya,” he mumbled. “I really, really want to kiss you now.”

With those words, she felt a shock wave roll through her body. Truthfully, even in those times that she felt like she might drown in her feelings for Pal Gye, she had hardly dared to dream of this moment. But now the moment was here, and it felt like she had never wanted anything more. She reached up to touch his face, her fingers sliding over the curve of his cheek.

“Then kiss me.”

Without another second of hesitation, he leaned forward, his hand moving from her hair to cup her cheek. When their lips met, Bu Ja felt as though her skin was on fire. It was as if she was being struck by lightning again, her blood racing through her body. Pal Gye’s lips were gentle against hers, soft and sweet in their movements. He kissed her lightly, the press of his lips lingering for only moments before he shifted to kiss her again and again and again. Finally, Bu Ja lifted her arms to wrap around his neck, keeping their lips connected as she tilted her head to find a better angle. He melted against her, his free hand finding her waist and holding her tight to his chest. They stayed that way for a long moment before separating at the same time, Bu Ja pressing her cheek against Pal Gye’s collarbone once more. He let out a long breath that tickled the crown of her head.

“Bu Ja-ya, I love you,” he said, his face buried in her hair. “Please stay by my side forever.”

Bu Ja had never been as happy as she was here, wrapped in Pal Gye’s embrace.

“Yes,” she said simply.

Leading a life as normal humans would be hard after everything that they had been through. But there was no one she would rather live that life with than Pal Gye, and she knew he felt the same. She knew they could make it work, especially with the help of their friends. They’d be just fine.